Saturday, September 12, 2009

AIPAC, the 752 lb Gorilla in the Room?

A commentary in Mother Jones by Robert Dreyfuss is well worth reading. It's basic premise is that AIPAC's power is fading, what was once the 800 lb, now is maybe the 400 lb Gorilla. He cites as evidence that Cong. Berman stopped a AIPAC resolution that tightens sanction on Iran from proceeding to a vote.
But this time, AIPAC was in for a surprise. Rep. Howard Berman, a dependable Israel backer who authored the legislation this past spring, put it on ice just weeks after it was introduced. "I have no intention of moving this bill through the legislative process in the near future," declared the California Democrat, who chairs the powerful House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
"Berman shocked everybody by not moving this bill forward," an official from the Israel lobby told me. "He's essentially put the kibosh on the bill. On his own bill! This is a major, major, major problem." ....
To be sure, it would be a mistake to count AIPAC out. It still has 100,000 members, a $60 million budget, and a $140 million endowment. Some 300 staffers, including an army of lobbyists, work out of 18 AIPAC offices spread across the country; they are tight with State Department and Pentagon bureaucrats, and can call on a vast network of political action committees, campaign contributors, and influentials. At its May conference—event slogan: "Relationships Matter"—AIPAC chose Lee Rosenberg, an Illinois businessman with close ties to Obama, as its next president. Its name notwithstanding, AIPAC is not a political action committee and does not contribute money directly to political campaigns. The Center for Responsive Politics, however, identifies 31 separate PACs as "pro-Israel" donors. And while independent of AIPAC, many of these organizations look to the mother ship for guidance on which candidates to support. During the 2008 election cycle, according to an analysis conducted for Mother Jones by the center, these 31 PACs and their individual donors funneled an eye-popping $22.5 million to various candidates.
Even more sobering is the fact that the bill mentioned above, the one Berman "put the kibosh on" is still very much alive. It was most likely delayed, not rejected. It now has 305 co-sponsors in the House. (out of 435 total members). The National Iranian American Council believes that during Berman's last trip to China:

(Berman) discussed his concerns about Iran’s nuclear program with Chinese leaders. Most likely, Berman is hoping to convince the Chinese to support another round of UN Security Council sanctions on Iran, modeled off of his bill, H.R. 2194, that seeks to impose a gasoline embargo on Iran.
Really, it seemed to be no more than a matter of timing. AIPAC and Berman are now on a synchronized beat. Just this last week, "National Jewish Leadership Advocacy Day on Iran." convened to push for a tougher line on Iran.
Speaking at the National Jewish Leadership Advocacy Day on Iran on Thursday in Washington, U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) said that next month he will mark up the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act and "begin the process of tightening the screws on Tehran" if Iran "does not reverse course."
The legislation would allow the sanctioning of companies that help Iran import or produce refined petroleum, which is seen as potentially having a large impact on Iran's economy because the country imports 40 percent of its refined petroleum.
Berman said that the clock has "almost run out" on Iran.

Seems that AIPAC is in pretty good form. At the same event, Dennis Ross (formerly of the aipac-related "think tank" WINEP, and now works in the White House) did not give any indication if the White House would support the passage of the Sanctions bill (so here, AIPAC may be running into some resistance- or not). AIPAC certainly seems to have Berman doing its bidding, from China to DC and next month in San Diego, where Berman is a guest speaker at the AIPAC "National Summit". Berman will be a guest speaker along with Victor Styrsky, West Coast director of Christians United for Israel (CUFI, Hagee's extremist cult) and Eliot Abrams, a convicted criminal from the Iran/Contra days (does it not seem even a little ironic to these people that Abrams was part of a criminal plot to sell weapons to Iran?), who, like CUFI, is opposed to any "Land for Peace" deal.

It is clear that the agenda of this political lobby still poses a threat. If Congress and the administration approach the issue of nuclear proliferation from the perspective "Israel can have nuclear weapons, in fact we will completely ignore its massive arsenal, but you can't enrich uranium for any reason.... and if you do you will be subject to military attack" rather than a rational approach of a universal application of international law and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and common sense, then it will not be successful in preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that began when Israel introduced the inhuman weapons there more than 40 years ago. A rational approach would include a call for a nuclear-free Middle East, opposed by AIPAC. In fact, because of Israel's refusal to become part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, US aid to Israel violates the Symington Amendment passed by Congress in 1961. These double-standards undermine the goal of creating a safe, nuclear-free world.

Has AIPAC been reduced to half the gorilla it once was? In the last eight months, AIPAC pro-war/occupation events have been protested in five different cities. Last year, AIPAC lost a big fight when a resolution before congress regarding Iran was dropped after a popular outcry. This year, AIPAC is facing opposition among mainstream groups "pro-Israel" groups like J Street and Peace Now that are opposing the its anti-Iran sanctions bill, as well as an array of peace organizations like Peace Action (they have a "Can the Sanctions" campaign) and others. So AIPAC does seem a bit haggard and just a bit more battle-weary, just a tad more gaunt than we have seen it in a long while. Maybe it is now the 752 lb gorilla in the room. Getting more beleaguered by the day, but still very capable of causing major damage.

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